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Labour head Brendan Howlin downplays rift as Alan Kelly snubs leader's unveiling

Published 20/05/2016

Brendan Howlin is the new Labour leader
Brendan Howlin is the new Labour leader

Labour Brendan Howlin has played down a potentially damaging rift in the party after he became the new leader unopposed.

Former environment minister Alan Kelly, who made no secret of his own ambitions, snubbed his colleague's unveiling and later warned he had wanted an open contest.

He also claimed Labour members backed the idea of a free vote.

Mr Kelly congratulated Mr Howlin but said: " Over the past week I sought to ensure that the leadership of the party would be chosen by the members, by way of a contest and a democratic election.

"I further thought that a shortened contest would allow for re-engagement with our members and ensure a contest based on vision and ideas for the future direction of the party, where the best candidate would emerge with a clear mandate.

"The rest of the parliamentary party took a different view to what I believe is the members' wish and entitlement. I want to thank the huge volume of members who have confirmed that view to me."

But Mr Howlin, former minister for public expenditure in the coalition with Fine Gael, insisted there would be no fallout between him and his only rival.

"Absolutely, no trouble at all," he said.

"Alan Kelly's heart is in the Labour Party and his place is at the heart of the Labour Party.

"I have no doubt in my mind, knowing the man, his capacity, his ability and his integrity, as I do, he will be an intrinsic part of the Labour Party into the future."

Mr Howlin told RTE's News At One that he had spoken to Mr Kelly for hours on the leadership question but that his victory had been finalised under party rules "appropriately and properly".

He also appealed for him not to be an enemy.

Mr Kelly failed to force a vote among Labour members after he could not muster up the support from just one of the four TDs who had the power to second his nomination.

Mr Howlin denied a campaign had been run to get him into the leader's seat unopposed.

A TD for Wexford since 1987, he previously ran unsuccessfully for the leadership and also served as Leas Ceann Comhairle in the Dail during his career.

Mr Howlin's biggest job will be trying to win back support for a party decimated in the February election when it lost 30 of its 37 seats.

He began that by launching a sterling defence of the party's decision to go into government in 2011.

"It's hard to show that you stand for Labour's values when you have to go into government to rescue the country from the vandalism inflicted upon it by those who do not share our values," he said.

"Cleaning up the mess left by others may not have proven electorally popular, but it had to be done. It had to be done to ensure this country's future. Now, Labour and Ireland are in a strong position to grow."

Mr Howlin said he was immensely proud and deeply humbled to be Labour's 12th leader.

The new leader also issued a direct appeal to politicians and supporters who have left the party in recent years or found themselves on the fringes to come back.

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